Forget Finding Your Purpose — Collect Reasons To Live InsteadMay 22, 2022
The pressure to find my purpose used to suffocate me.
I’d read so many books about how it was the secret to happiness that not having one made me anxious. Was I wasting my life? I was jealous of the people who seemed to have it all worked out. As you know life is complex which makes the idea of one perfect solution so addictive.
Yet not enough people talk about how fragile it is.
When you build your entire self-worth on a single pillar everything comes crashing down if it cracks. It’s much healthier to base it on as many pillars as you can instead. You can be far more resilient by being well-rounded than focusing all your energy on one thing.
Our obsession with simplicity has made us distort meaningful foreign concepts too. Global interest in the Japanese concept of Ikigai has increased by 100 times in the past eight years. You might know it as something which you love, you’re good at, the world needs and makes you money.
Yet this isn’t Ikigai at all.
Ikigai is simply a reason to live. You can and should have many! These can and should adapt over time rather than be fixed for your entire life. Ikigai is about what brings you joy in the present.
It’s time to stop trying to find a mythical purpose and started collecting reasons to live.
I bet when many of you have thought about purpose, your mind has jumped straight to finding a meaningful career. This mindset undervalues all the great contributions to society made by parents, carers, and volunteers. Let’s end this belief you need to be paid for something for it to matter.
It’s great if you love your job but many people won’t have the perfect workday every day. Aspiring creators glamorize what it’s like to go full-time. Sure, I enjoy writing but if I could make a living by just talking then I would. It makes me when others tell me writing is my purpose as if they can see inside my head. If anything it was more fun when it wasn’t paying the mortgage.
I’ve interviewed dozens of entrepreneurs who’ve made millions and some who’ve made billions. It’s not uncommon for them to regret not prioritizing their health enough when they were younger. Working hard might get you where you want to go faster but it’s strange to see people wear it as a badge of honor.
Japan may have invented the term Ikigai but they also created the concept of Karoshi which means death by overwork. When you finish reading this article and sit down to reflect, remember this paradox. Don’t be so obsessed with your Ikigai that it kills you.
Achievements are overrated
In the movies, everything builds up to a climax where the hero saves the day and everyone lives happily ever after. What happens after the camera stops rolling though?
Life isn’t a movie, it’s a continuous rollercoaster. Our stories aren’t defined by a single moment but by our every day. The problem is we keep chasing achievements thinking they will fill a hole in our hearts. When it doesn’t we do the same thing all over again with a different goal all to have our Hollywood moment.
I trained in karate for well over a decade. The climax of the film would be when I earned my black belt or won a medal at a tournament. Yet these moments aren’t what I look back on the most. My happiest memory from this time is how everyone would support each other in class. I loved the process of getting better rather than the results.
When you enjoy the means to an end then you can keep pushing the goal further back and it won’t affect your joy.
I won’t tell you what your reasons to live should be because we’re completely different people. What makes me feel alive might bore you to death. It’s up to you to read your own emotions and take notes.
When my self-esteem was low, I once wrote down a list of everything positive in my life and stopped when my hand started hurting. If you feel like your life lacks meaning, this exercise could be a good reminder of how much you have to live for.
I never shared my list with anyone else because it was a conversation between me and myself. It wasn’t about appearing to be a good person on Instagram. I know I can’t be the only one who rolls their eyes when people who print money talk about how they care about whatever their PR team told them to say they did.
As well as career, most people’s reasons to live will come in two categories; people and hobbies.
I feel sick every time influencers talk about the need to make sacrifices to strike it big. When I’m old, I’d rather be poor and surrounded by people who care about me than sit in a mansion alone.
Loneliness is a public health crisis, the evidence is overwhelming. Something broke somewhere. All of the world’s blue zones, where people have the highest life expectancy, have a strong sense of community yet most of us focus on selfish goals.
I don’t know about you but nothing cheers me up like a proper hug from someone who cares. Nothing makes me laugh more than private jokes from old friends who know me inside out. Building my own business is tough and stressful but I will always make time for friends and family.
For some of you, your pets will be just as important as the humans in your life. To them, you’re everything in this world. Remember this next time you’re feeling low!
I’m lucky because I’ve always had other interests alongside school and work. At different points in my life, karate, dance, and yoga have all taken the top spot for regular weekly highlights. Then there’s all the travel I’ve done, all the amazing food I’ve eaten, and the games I’ve played.
It doesn’t matter what your hobbies are as long as they bring you joy. Mine usually double as social events so I get the added boost of making friends too.
For most of this year, I carved out time for soccer, dance and squash every week but then I tore my meniscus ligament last month. My passions were replaced with three physio sessions a week. It’s not ideal and my mood was down for a bit but now I’m enjoying the new challenge of trying to get back to full strength.
If I believed dancing to be my purpose in life, my mental well-being wouldn’t be able to bounce back so quickly whenever I’m injured!
Every little helps
There’s a danger you’re still thinking too big here so I want to emphasize this:
Your reasons to live can be tiny as long as they bring you joy.
Remember to dive deeper into your family, friends, hobbies, and your career. Let’s say someone matters to you, in what ways do they make your life better? For example, my baby nephew loves throwing things on the floor from his high chair and pretending it wasn’t him. I know I shouldn’t encourage him but I can’t help but laugh.
Don’t get caught up in categories though as not everything fits neatly into a box. Sometimes the sillier the reason, the stronger the feeling. Your list should be full of oddities because we’re all weirdos at heart.
The feeling of sitting down on your sofa after a hard day.
The song that’s stuck in your head but you don’t know its name.
The smell of your favorite food.
Your life has meaning and can be joyful regardless of whether you’ve found a life purpose.
I hope you’ve smiled to yourself while reading this.